“Back in the day, he was the only game in town. He had lumber, sugar, dynamite,” said Lisa Meyer, who owns the store now occupying the building that housed Bell’s business.
These days, some people know it as the place to go for fresh produce, organic breads, boiled peanuts, jellies and preserves.
Meyer reopened the store on Georgia Highway 20, officially called Cherokee Market but still known to many as Bell’s Store, in April 2010.
The old building, with only a wood stove for heat and window units for cooling, is full of charm. Meyer had to make several updates before opening the market, but she’s liked the building for a long time.
“My dad and I used to salvage old barns and houses for the windows, the doors, the old wood. We always liked this building,” she said.
Meyer returned to Georgia from Florida when her dad, now deceased, was sick, and found that the building was for rent.
“It was like a sign,” she said.
In an old-fashioned way, shoppers won’t find much plastic inside Cherokee Market. All drinks are sold in glass bottles, and paper bags are provided for produce. There’s also the old-fashioned charm of the small staff that make it a point to chat and joke with customers.
“I think we’re the entertainment sometimes. People always tell me how much they love Linda (Weaver, store employee),” Meyer said.
“People love the smell in here, too,” Weaver said.
The store sells farm-fresh beef from Robin and Terry Solomon’s Ball Ground farm. Produce and Christmas trees come from the Atlanta State Farmers Market, as well as some local growers.
“In summertime, we’re covered with fruit. It’s the best in Cherokee County, no doubt about it,” Meyer said.
Meyer said the store gets a good bit of pass-through traffic, though the loyal customers keep the business going.
But Cherokee Market wasn’t an overnight success.
“The first year, I cried. The second year, I was like, ‘Wow. What happened?’ And this year’s been great,” Meyer said.
Cherokee Market started with two tables of produce outside the building.
“And now we have a monster,” Meyer said.
Meyer grew up in the restaurant business and previously owned a tourist shop and produce stand in Florida.
“All they were interested in down there was avocadoes, mangoes and fruit,” she said.
As with most small businesses, Cherokee Market is a labor of love.
“Some people say I’m never here. But I am constantly doing something for this store,” said Meyer, who makes the 110-mile round trip to the farmers market in Atlanta every day during the summer and at least once a week in the winter.
Keeping the store running is a team effort with Meyer, Weaver, employee Wayne Weaver and John Sellars, who helps out at the store, plus vendors and customers.
“The people at the farmers market would do anything to help us,” Meyer said.
Meyer recently had an awning built onto the side of the store. Right now, it holds Christmas trees, but it will display hanging baskets and bedding plants in the spring and summer.
As for future changes at the store, Meyer said she is looking at bringing in a few more unique non-food items such as handmade yard art.
With a traffic signal opening at the intersection of Ga. 20 and Union Hill Road, Meyer is hoping customers – and potential customers – will feel a little safer coming to the business.
“There are a lot of people who have always been scared to pull in here,” she said.
Cherokee Market is open seven days a week beginning at 11 a.m.